Earth's mountains disappeared for a billion years, and then life stopped evolving

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EXCERPT: For nearly a billion years during our planet's "middle age" (1.8 billion to 0.8 billion years ago), Earth's mountains literally stopped growing, while erosion wore down existing peaks to stumps, according to a study published Feb. 11 in the journal Science.

This extreme mountain-forming hiatus — which resulted from a persistent thinning of Earth's continental crust — coincided with a particularly bleak eon that geologist's call the "boring billion," the researchers wrote. Just as Earth's mountains failed to grow, the simple life-forms in Earth's oceans also failed to evolve (or at least, they evolved incredibly slowly) for a billion years.

According to lead study author Ming Tang, the mountain of trouble on Earth's continents may have been partially responsible for the slow going in Earth's seas. "Continents were mountainless in the middle age," Tang, an assistant professor at Peking University in Beijing, China, told Live Science in an email. "Flatter continents may have reduced nutrient supply [to the ocean] and hindered the emergence of complex life." (MORE - details)

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